By LESLEE BASSMAN
Special to the Four Points News
MileStone Community Builders, the developer for the Milky Way at River Place residential project, filed a revision February 27 that updated its site plans from a proposed 30 units to a total of 64 units. Four Points News reviewed the filing following a public records request filed with the city of Austin seeking the document.
In a March 22 online post, the River Place Homeowners Association stated that MileStone lacked the authority to construct more units and laid out its reasons why the revised project shouldn’t proceed.
However, the city isn’t budging and instead allowing the filing for the added units to proceed, at least until a court determines otherwise. “At this time, until and unless there is a judicial determination that the termination provided to the City is invalid, the developer may submit a site plan revision for the additional units,” stated Trish Link, Division Chief for the city of Austin’s Land Use and Real Estate Department, in a March 24 email response to the HOA’s attorney, Connie Heyer, of Niemann & Heyer, LLP.
Austin staff is currently reviewing the revised plan for completeness and once that phase is finished, MileStone can submit the site plan application package for formal review, city of Austin spokesperson Robbie Searcy said. That will trigger a public notice to be sent to nearby homeowners of the change and interested parties can respond to the filing, she said.
“At this stage in the development process, the revision does not require [Austin City] Council approval,” Searcy said.
Developer: Prerequisite to expanding number of units now satisfied
Milky Way at River Place, a 42-acre detached residential condominium project located off Milky Way Drive, was initially limited to 30 units when it was zoned for townhomes and condominiums in October 2019. However, the development could add more homes if it had an emergency route other than its primary street and generated no more than 1,200 vehicle trips daily.
The revised plans show an emergency route, an easement granted by The Autism Trust and Austin Christian Fellowship church, or ACF, entities that also provided the developer with a similar easement for construction. New traffic counts submitted by MileStone reflect that, even with 64 homes, vehicle traffic amounts to less than the 1,200 trips per day threshold.
The February 20 cover letter attached to the revised documents submitted by KT Civil engineer Ousmane Traore, MileStone’s representative, stated the development limitation “has now been released,” leaving MileStone to seek a permit to build an additional 34 units. The development’s infrastructure, water and wastewater for the project was designed for 64 homes, he said.
River Place HOA: Not so fast
In the March 22 post to the community’s HOA sent to the Four Points News and addressed to River Place homeowners, the group stated that ACF lacked the legal right to grant such an easement for emergency access. Therefore, without an emergency accessway, MileStone is limited to construct only 30 units on the tract. The HOA claims that a document — a restrictive covenant created in 2000 by the subdivision’s initial developer, First River Place Residential — prohibited any access to River Place Boulevard from the property. If such an access was requested, the covenant required the permission of the River Place Residential Community Association, or HOA, for such a route.
The easement provided by the church as an emergency accessway for the MileStone project spans across its tract to River Place Boulevard.
“…Because of this restrictive covenant, developers of land behind ACF cannot use River Place Boulevard for access, even for emergency access, because the HOA has not granted permission,” the HOA’s letter states. “This limits the number of homes they can build – due to City rules they can more than double the number of units if they have emergency access to River Place Boulevard.”
According to the HOA, the only way the restrictive covenant — that disallows vehicular access to River Place Boulevard and requires HOA consent to any accessway to River Place Boulevard — could be terminated, would be if the original developer, FRPR, and the property owner, ACF, agreed to do so. However, FRPR no longer exists as an entity.
But on March 21, the HOA filed a document stating the lawful successor to FRPR that inherits the right to agree to an easement is Sierra Development Corporation. ACF, through a Release and Termination of Restrictive Covenant filed October 13, 2022, with the city of Austin, provides that it and adjoining landowner Realtex Ventures, LP are the lawful successors to FRPR, with the two entities agreeing to dissolve the restriction and allow a vehicular accessway to River Place Boulevard.
Other provisions in the revised plan
The Milky Way at River Place revision also includes a new access road alignment aimed at saving trees; an increase in the number of water meters; new locations of the wastewater services, private storm inlets and sizes of private storm pipes; a change in the lot lines due to the added units; an adjustment to the retaining walls; and an updated tree list with a corresponding mitigation plan.
According to engineer Traore’s cover letter, the city’s legal department has already authorized its staff to approve the 64-unit amendment.
An onsite presales center for Milky Way at River Place is now open, with 64 lots priced from $1,729,000 to $2,533,000. Homes are expected to range from 3,600- to 5,000-square-feet and the community is zoned to Leander ISD’s River Place Elementary, Four Points Middle and Vandegrift High schools.
William Swetlik, who doesn’t live on Milky Way but can still see the development from his upper deck, said he’s worried about the added traffic that will ensue from the combined impact of these new residents along with those who will occupy the former 3M tract off RM 2222 and River Place Boulevard, which developers have said could have up to 1,400 apartments in the years ahead.
“It’s going to be overwhelming in that neighborhood,” said Swetlik, a 22-year resident of River Place. “To this point, I’ve been happy with the area but, with these changes, the traffic’s going to increase, that’s obvious to me.”
And, then, there’s the threat of wildfire in the area, a threat that became reality in 2011 as nearby Steiner Ranch witnessed 23 homes go up in flames. Swetlik said he would have preferred leaving the Milky Way tract as it is, in its natural state. After all, that’s the reason he and his wife were attracted to the neighborhood — its beauty, its woods, he said.
“Anytime you bring more housing to Austin, Texas, or the surrounding area at a time when there’s not enough rainfall, you have to be concerned about the increased potential for wildfires,” Swetlik said.